Outdoor Nudes: Fill Flash & Reflectors
While daylight can be an excellent source of light indoors through a window, outdoors it can be too strong and in the wrong place (usually directly overhead) which casts harsh shadows over the model. You need a way of reducing the contrast between the sun's highlights and the shadows it create; reflectors and fill flash are the two easiest solutions. Without them you might as well pack up and go back indoors!
The golden rule of outdoor photography is to shoot in the hour after dawn, and the hour before it gets dark; the light is gloriously warm and so near the horizon that it doesn't create the overhead shadows you normally associate with sunlight.
However, it is sometimes difficult to look glamourous that early in the morning. Personally I barely look human before about ten o'clock so I can hardly be critical!
That leaves the evening - but if you are only going to shoot for an hour before dusk on the days when the weather is good, then you might not be taking too many photographs...
Fortunately there are ways to overcome the problems associated with strong, contrasty light. Some professionals use large 'scrims' - semi-translucent panels - which mute the direct light, but as they are typically about 9' square, they are expensive, unwieldy and require massive supports (or at least 2 assistants) to hold them in place while you work.
A far simpler approach is too balance the sunlight with a second light source. The first option is to bounce some of the suns light back into shot with a reflector, the second is to use a flash to fill in the shadows - so called 'fill flash':
You simply place them at an angle to the sun so that they bounce light back into the areas which are in shadow.
They are available in a variety of sizes, from small hand held models which can be used for faces, to 6' sheets which can re-light a full figure nude.
Very often the reflectors can be fitted with gold, silver or white sleeves to change the intensity of the reflected light. Gold reflectors add a warmth to the light as well, which can be very glamourous.
To use the technique, the aperture, shutter speed and ISO are set to correctly expose the shot as normal. In addition you instruct the flash to fire as well.
If possible you should reduce the power of the flash to make the results more natural. This is done by selecting the camera's Flash Exposure Compensation function - the button usually looks something like .
Increasingly this function is found not only on DSLRs but also on many modern compact cameras as well, though you sometimes have to hunt for it in the menus on Compact cameras.
Experiment with settings in the range of -1 to -2 stops.
The picture of Sophia sitting on the railway line above uses this technique. It was taken at about 5pm on a June afternoon in the south of France; not the worst possible conditions, but without the fill flash Sophia's face would have been too dark. Even so, the effect is deliberately subtle; the only giveaway is the tell-tale catchlight in her eyes.
You can produce a more natural, flatter light by adding a diffusing accessory to your flash gun or pop up flash: